A preponderance of newly diagnosed cases in the 20-54 age group and an equal number of women as men diagnosed with HIV stand out amidst the figures presented in the Ministry of Health’s 2006 HIV/AIDS Statistical Report.
For the first time since the outbreak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Barbados, the country has recorded an equal number of women as men diagnosed with this disease. According to Senior Medical Officer of Health for Communicable Diseases, Dr. Anton Best, statistics show that of the 183 newly diagnosed HIV cases last year, there were 89 cases occurring in both males and females, with 5 unknowns.
“Statistics reflect what is being described globally as the ‘feminisation’ of the disease, with a male to female ratio of 3:1 in 1986 and 2:1 in 1996,” he stated.
While statistics revealed that persons who were newly diagnosed HIV positive ranged from infancy (less than 1 year old) to the elderly (over 65 years old), there was also a predominance of newly diagnosed cases in the 20-54 age group, with 143 out of 183 persons (79 percent) falling into this category.
Figures also showed that persons were being diagnosed with HIV at an older age, which Dr. Best noted, “may indicate that there is more transmission in the older age group or that more persons from this age group are coming forward to be tested”.
Reported cases of people with advanced HIV or AIDS was 101, with more men reported to have AIDS than women (61 as compared to 39). Just around 82 percent of the persons reported to have AIDS were in the 20-54 age group.
Deaths from HIV in 2006 totalled 14 (12 males and 2 females), with approximately one person dying from the disease each month. According to Dr. Best, “this was the lowest number of annual deaths since 1986, two years after the start of the epidemic”.
He explained that government’s free provision of anti-retroviral drugs, which formed part of the Expanded National HIV/AIDS Programme, played a pivotal role in the 85 percent decline in the number of deaths due to HIV, during the period 2001 to 2006.
In terms of mother to child transmission, 37 pregnant HIV positive women delivered in 2006 and only one child was diagnosed HIV positive.
Dr. Best said: “This is in keeping with the HIV transmission rate seen in developed nations. The successful Prevention of the Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) Programme is currently being strengthened by having key policies and guidelines in place in the form of a policy document on PMTCT and PMTCT guidelines that was recently completed.” He added that training in the use of the PMTCT guidelines and adherence to PMTCT policies was slated to commence later this year.
Overall, since the first signs of the disease here in 1984, about 3,295 persons have been diagnosed with HIV, with far more males than females being diagnosed as positive.
Out of the 3,295 diagnosed with HIV, 2,032 or 62 percent reached the stage of advanced HIV or AIDS. The total deaths from the epidemic, since its inception, was 1,297; 39 percent of the total amount ever diagnosed.
At the end of 2006, 1998 persons or 61 percent of all those ever diagnosed with HIV, were known to be alive. As pointed out by Dr. Best, “this figure is estimated to be half of the total amount of persons living with HIV in Barbados. This implies that the majority of people living with the disease do not know that they are infected”.
He observed that the substantial reduction in deaths since the start of the programme had not been matched by a reduction in the persons becoming infected with HIV. “From 2001 to 2006, the average number of persons diagnosed with HIV annually has been 184. There is therefore a greater need to prevent new HIV infections to control the epidemic,” he said.